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Trump Proclaims Himself “The Great Environmentalist?” A Reality Check

Reuters/Tom Brenner

Earlier this month, during a press conference in Jupiter, Florida, President Trump recalled how lawmakers from Florida asked him to sign a nonbinding resolution urging Congress to expand a moratorium on oil and gas drilling off America’s southeastern coast.

“They came to my office and they said that this will make us, and make you, the number one environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump said from the podium. “I said, ‘Huh. Why does it have to go back only to Teddy Roosevelt, which is over 100 years? Why can’t we say from George Washington? Right from the beginning. It’s true. I’m number 1 since Teddy Roosevelt. Who would have thought? Trump is the great environmentalist.”

Trump’s endorsement of an offshore drilling ban in Florida – a key swing state in the upcoming election – was a switch for the President, who has opened up millions of acres of public lands to drilling and mining as part of what he calls his “Energy Dominance” policy.

But beyond that, what about this idea of comparing Trump’s environmental record to that of Teddy Roosevelt and other presidents?

Well, Roosevelt –an avid outdoorsman, hunter and explorer – protected 230 million acres of public lands, including by establishing 18 national monuments, one at Grand Canyon. He also created five national parks, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, and four national game preserves.

Another Republican – Richard Nixon – created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Nixon is not often thought of as a tree hugger, but he gets credit for singing the landmark National Environmental Policy Act, which requires in-depth federal studies before major development projects.

George H.W. Bush signed amendments to the federal Clean Air Act that dramatically reduced sulfur dioxide air pollution across the U.S., curbing acid rain.

Barack Obama raised fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. He also established the largest ocean sanctuary on the planet, imposed limits on greenhouse gas pollution from coal-fired power plants, and signed the Paris Climate Accord to combat global warming.

How does that compare to President Trump’s record? Well, Trump yanked the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. Hiring a former coal industry lobbyist to run his EPA, Trump worked energetically to undo almost every environmental protection that Obama, and many of his predecessors, put into place. Trump has dismantled nearly 70 environmental regulations, including protections for many wetlands and streams and limits on water and air pollution.

Three times, the Trump Administration attempted to eliminate at least 90 percent of the funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which oversees the Bay cleanup effort, before being stopped by Congress. He removed federal protections from two million acres of scenic national monuments in Utah, opening them up to potential uranium mining.

In the area of environmental law enforcement, Trump’s EPA has let many companies responsible for illegal pollution off the hook. Amid budget cuts and a shrinking staff, annual inspections and evaluations by EPA of polluting industries declined in 2019 to the lowest level in at least two decades, according to EPA data. The number of civil cases referred for enforcement also dropped last year to the lowest point since at least 2001, federal figures show.

So, no, Trump’s record does not quite stand up to Teddy Roosevelt’s…or even Richard Nixon’s, or George H.W. Bush’s, or Jimmy Carter’s, or Barack Obama’s…or any other president’s.

When it comes to anti-environmentalism, Trump is truly greatest of all time, all the way back to George Washington.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.